Without warning, my arm was chicken-winged, causing me to cry out in pain. Joel held me tightly, keeping it almost impossible for me to struggle without inflicting pain on myself. “Joel! What are you doing? Let me go!”
“No can do, Em,” he responded, shaking his blonde hair out of his face. “You’re going to make me rich.”
“Surprise,” Ashton said, finally stepping out from the shadows. “You wanted to know who my little secret agent was, right? I do believe Joel suggested it was one of the kitchen help to the queen and king.”
Joel nodded. “I did. And they believed it.”
My jaw dropped. “But it wasn’t… it was you all along. That’s how Ashton found out I was in the castle. That’s how he found out I was a Blue Blood. That’s how he knew I was in a relationship with Vincent!”
“Bingo!” Joel replied happily.
Betrayal coursed through my veins. “I… I thought you were my friend,” I whispered, wishing I could see his face.
“I can still be your friend if you forgive me for this. We’ll be seeing a lot of each other in the future, you know. Me, you, Luca, and Ashton. We’ll be four best friends!”
“No way!” I cried in disbelief. “You think I’ll be friends with you after this? Joel, you’re Vincent’s best friend! He trusted you!”
I felt Joel shrug. “You trusted me too, didn’t you?”
“But it’s different with your best friend!”
“I was never his best friend, I only played the part,” Joel snapped angrily. “Don’t be ridiculous. You don’t need such things as friends in this world.”
My mind was having trouble processing the situation. Joel? Joel was on Ashton’s side? Happy-go-lucky Joel? Unfortunately it all made too much sense. He was the reason Ashton knew everything about me. How could we not have known? The time at the carnival should have made it obvious! I wanted to slap myself! Joel left me alone when he knew Ashton was after me! How could no one have realized he wasn’t on our side?
I shook my head. “What about that night you were attacked, Joel?”
“Luca and I got in a fight,” he explained casually. “It got a little bit out of control. Lucky I had you to go back home to.”
“Speaking of Luca, where is that brat?” Ashton questioned, crossing his slender arms over his chest. “Sebastian will be here soon.”
My breath caught in my throat. What did Ashton want with Sebastian? Was he going to try to bargain me with Sebastian’s crown? I couldn’t believe it. We had everything all wrong. Ashton wasn’t going to go after Vincent because he was in a relationship with me. Of course not! What good would come out of that? Ashton would go after someone who cared about me and held something of interest to him!
“Ashton, if I go with you, can we just leave now?”
He shook his head. “No. You were easy to capture. I knew it’d be quite simple all along. I only said you had a chance to escape to throw you off if you decided to choose between the two of you. However, my master plan was to get everything I wanted. That’s including you and the throne. Hopefully Sebastian will give it up easily. I don’t think he wants anyone getting hurt.”
I swallowed. “Who’s anyone?”
“You, Vincent, Solomon, Luella, Fiona… Anyone, really. Whoever we can get our hands on. Elijah and Ace— you don’t know them, but they’re part of my crew— are keeping an eye on the ladies. I’m not worried about Solomon; Joel’s informed me he’s guarding the entrance in case I decide to come in that way. So when Sebastian gets here, it’ll be just you and him against Joel, Luca, and myself. I can almost guarantee things will go my way.”